BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Brooklyn Nets had flat games from their three best players and still won. The Brooklyn Nets had limited minutes and mobility from their fourth-best player, and still won. The Brooklyn Nets were out-rebounded handily, and still won. The Brooklyn Nets got destroyed in the second half by opposing center DeMarcus Cousins, withstood a barrage of rim-rattlers and absurd low-percentage shots going in one rim for Sacramento and out the other for Brooklyn, shot 5-17 from beyond the arc… and still won, and outside of another awkward third-and-beginning-of-fourth quarter, won somewhat handily, with a 99-90 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Yes, somehow the Brooklyn Nets won this one, mostly by keeping the somewhat hapless Kings at bay. The Kings hit some absurdly lucky shots — Tyreke Evans nailed a high-arcing three with a hand in his face as a shot clock expired, Aaron Brooks hit some flippers in the lane that shouldn’t have gone anywhere near the basket, and at times the basketball just seemed willed to dance on the rim to its own beat until finally succumbing to the vortex at the bottom of the net. But the Nets kept grinding along, sticking to their script, getting just enough from a group of starters that never really “started” and the enormous boost from their self-christened Bench Mob, and led by the Godfather.
Yes, Bench Mob Godfather Andray Blatche, he of the once-non-guaranteed contract, he of my scorn, he of the 35.8% field goal percentage before tonight’s game, assuredly won tonight’s game ball after a perfect 9-9 first half, finishing 11-12 with 22 points and little else necessary of consequence. It was Blatche’s finest moment in a Brooklyn Nets uniform and one of the team’s first true “wow” moments. The big-picture in me — and I’m aware that many will see me as a nitpicking hatery piece of haterade hater in this — would also like to note that the lead barely ticked with Blatche in the game in the first half, the Kings shot 7-10 in the restricted area in that time, and Blatche’s plus-minus on the game was a surprisingly neutral +2.
But I’m also aware that, holy crap, Andray Blatche controlled the offense in the second quarter perhaps as no Brooklyn Nets player has this season, scoring in a multitude of ways, including most mind-blowingly on a step-back fadeaway 20-footer with a hand in his face that nearly caused me to spit out a drink I didn’t have. On a night where Brook Lopez was somewhat ineffective outside of four blocked shots, on a night when Joe Johnson couldn’t hit the ground with gravity, on a night when Deron Williams couldn’t dominate some obvious superior matchups, Godfather Andray Blatche came through. Hello Dray Day.
It wasn’t just Blatche pushing Bench Mob, either. C.J. Watson hit three three-pointers to help bolster the Nets in that first half. MarShon Brooks is back by shotular demand. Brooks AKA Swag Sleeves AKA Secret Sauce scored nine huge points in the fourth quarter on 4-5 shooting, including a shot clock-bending three with 50 seconds left to stretch the lead from eight to 11. There was some concern after his injuries that he’d not crack the rotation, for fear that he wouldn’t positively affect a positively charged team. Hopefully, that thought is dead, and he anchors more of the second unit going forward.
I know this is something I’ll likely say on numerous occasions this year, but: this is a new world for the new Nets; one where they can afford to make their fair share of mistakes, get bad games from their key players, sit on the receiving end of a few bad bounces, muster just 47 points from their starters, and still find some way to win a game without trailing for the final 33:36. Yes, the Sacramento Kings aren’t a good team, but the New Jersey Nets weren’t out of their league not long ago. Now, the Brooklyn Nets are. It’s a weird feeling to embrace, but it’s tangible and real and part of their fabric all the same. This is a team the Brooklyn Nets can — and did — defeat in spite of themselves. That’s odd and confusing and wonderful, all at the same time. We’re not in Newark anymore.
With that, though, comes the knowledge that there are real tests for the Brooklyn Nets. And they’re coming up. Tuesday poses a brand new challenge: the Nets travel to Staples Center for the first time to see Los Angeles Lakers, armed with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, some other guys, and now new head coach Mike D’Antoni & spread pick-and-roll system. The Nets certainly aren’t expected to win that one, and if a nine-point victory against one of the worst teams in the league is any indication, they’ll have their hands full.
For Sunday night, they messed around and got a victory in spite of themselves. Now let’s see if they can get it right and get one because of themselves.